A week from today, an intense 5 year long research project will finally be open at the South Street Seaport in Manhattan. For the grand opening, there will be lots of screaming and yelling, probably even some pushing and shoving…after all, it is a playground. Yet, this is not just an “ordinary” playground. Corey Kilgannon’s article for the New York Times this morning shared some information about the new playground, which is part of the Imagination Playground project. Designed by architect David Rockwell, the first contemporary American architect to address this issue of play, the playground’s concept focuses on “encouraging child-directed, unstructured free play. With a focus on loose parts, Imagination Playground offers a changing array of elements that allows children to constantly reconfigure their environment and to design their own course of play,” explained the playground’s website. Great videos and images, plus more information after the break.
Gone are the permanent elements, such as slides and swings, and replaced with movable parts, such as giant foam pieces, sand and water. The playground design encourages collaboration between children as several help each other building a fort, or maybe a car, or possibly a space ship. Children can use their imagination to physically build their own play space…and the next day, they can completely re-create it.
Although the playground’s components are non-restrictive, the actual act of play is the component which is becoming more directed. Adults are trained as “Play Associates” and their goal is to “allow play activity to evolve naturally by maintaining a safe and secure environment, and by renewing and varying the supply of loose parts,” explained the website. The design is a perfect example of how play and education can be blended together. While educators worry that spending the summer months void of any educational tools can be detrimental to a child’s progress come September, playgrounds, such as these, can take the role of a summer time classroom. The philosophy behind the design encourages thinking and learning, both on an individual and group level.
“Imagination Playground addresses a broader spectrum of play needs through opportunities for fantasy play and socio-cooperative play, in addition to more traditional running, jumping and climbing. Kids need to be active on many levels, and they need to exercise their minds as well as their muscles. Research shows that children at the age of eight who have experienced varied and challenging play are considerably better prepared to benefit from ongoing formal education.”